Greg Veis: You Tube Hunter Explores the Man Crush

Perhaps the strangest--and certainly the most unwelcome--development of this year's Super Bowl was the reliance on homophobia to move product. Much has already been written on the topic, so I won't cover old ground here, but all the corporate phobing sparked a discussion of the "man-crush" around Hunter HQ. Specifically, who is it acceptable to harbor one for? Jon Stewart seemed to be the #1 answer, with Kris Kristofferson a close two. (That's not a joke. Dude's a serious badass. Plus, he wrote this song and has excellent hair.)

For the uninitiated, a man-crush (n.) occurs, according to, which has clearly supplanted Merriam Webster as the language officiator par excellence, "when a straight man has a 'crush' on another man, not sexual but kind of idolizing him." Is that definition grammatically correct? Absolutely not. But the idea's there. Anyway, although it's dangerous to select a man-crush who isn't terribly well-known since it implies time idly spent daydreaming about the subject (which I haven't!), I'll just out and say it: Damon Albarn is my #1. Yes, he's best known as the lead singer of Blur, who I don't even like that much, but he's so much more. So. Much. More.

He wrote one of the best breakup songs of the last 10 years, he has pushed himself from a certain Britpop fade-out to a multi-dimensional and fully adult musical force, and most in line with this column's purposes, he brainchilded Gorillaz, the best animated rock band in the history of history. (And, uh, not to get all MySpace-y on you, he's got an inimitable coolness and I like the way he looks, but such that it's "not sexual but kind of idolizing." It's possible, and not nearly as fine a distinction as you might think. Really.) (I feel weird.) Okay, enough of that. In honor of Mr. Albarn, and in protest of the Super Bowl's unfortunate homophobic streak, a celebration of the Gorillaz, starting with the "19-2000" video. Like everything Gorillaz, it's animated and there are high jinks:

Whereas the "19-2000" video is straight titillation, this one, for the Grammy Award-winning "Feel Good Inc.," is laced with an undercurrent of menace. The human face in the middle of the cartoon suggests a certain, perhaps NSA-inspired, overlord quality. Am I being paranoid? Check this:  

Two more videos for you, both live. The "Clint Eastwood" one is from their first (of two) tours, and the graphics created by Jamie Hewlett are truly mind-blowing. With the possible exception of The Polyphonic Spree,  there isn't a more imaginative live act in music right now. (Sorry Flaming Lips...excess does not equal inspiration, which, coincidentally, was what my fortune cookie said last night. Between the sheets.)

Clint Eastwood (sorry unable to embed)

This last clip, a live version of "O Green World" from their second (of two) tours, is also wonderful, although please note the difference in stage set-up this go-around. More emphasis on the musicians, and the cartoon aspect focuses more on story-telling than instrument-playing.  

As you're probably aware, there's a lot more Gorillaz on YouTube if you're interested, and the material is certainly worth frittering away a lunch hour on. But I'd like to hear from you, too. Any man-crushes out there? Ladies, any fem-crushes? And so I'm not being hetero-normative: gay men, do you have fem-crushes? Lesbians, man-crushes? Can YouTube clips enhance your case? If so, hit the comments section hard, panda bears. Only through open, same-sex-crush discussion can we combat the damage done by Super Bowl advertisers. 92 million watched the game. About 92 people read this column. Even the longest journey starts with a first step. Or something.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]